TALKING to Mr Fabio Senesi, head of control and command systems and telecommunications with infrastructure manager Italian Rail Network (RFI), at the UIC's high-speed rail congress in Tokyo, it quickly became clear that RFI's parent company Italian State Railways (FS) will not let the current limitations of ERTMS prevent it from improving the performance of the railway and achieving its objectives. Indeed, FS is working on projects which have the potential to take ERTMS to the next level and make it a much better train control system. RFI currently has one initiative designed to raise the maximum speed on sections of its high-speed network from 300 to 350km/h and three schemes related to improvements on the conventional network.
The fleet of ETR 1000 high-speed trains supplied by Bombardier and AnsaldoBreda, which are currently entering service, have a maximum speed of 360km/h and much better acceleration than the previous generation of ETR 500 trains. "We already have to let ETR 1000 trains depart ahead of the older trains because they accelerate so rapidly that they soon catch up with a train in front if it is an ETR 500 and have to start braking," Senesi explained.
"We are obliged to test ETR 1000 at 360km/h and demonstrate that it can operate safely at this speed. All the rules say that there must be a 10% safety margin, which means testing the train at 396km/h." Senesi says there are two challenges to allow trains to operate at this speed. One is the prevention of flying ballast. For this, FS plans to glue the ballast before the trials start.
The second challenge is using ERTMS as an aid to the driver as there are special rules for operating at this speed. "We will need to change the speed profile to 400km/h," says Senesi. "ERTMS informs the driver exactly when he needs to start braking, but to eliminate any possible situation that could oblige the driver to stop unnecessarily, a warning system will tell the driver when to brake."
The two trial sites selected are on 50km sections of the Milan - Turin and Rome - Naples high-speed lines. Senesi wants the high-speed trials to be completed before the end of 2016.
Once the results of the trials have been assessed, FS will then study the technical and financial implications of running trains at 350km/h. It is likely that only around 300km of the high-speed network will be suitable for 350km/h operation. "We will need to check the track and bridges, and estimate how much it will cost to upgrade the lines, and operate and maintain them," Senesi explains. "We estimate that we could cut the Rome - Milan journey time to 2h 30min, which would mean a saving of 15 minutes."
Work is currently underway to make key sections of the network running up to the Swiss border interoperable for freight traffic. Last year, Bombardier started installing ETCS Level 1 with radio in-fill on the single-track Novara - Domodossola line. "We will reduce the cost by using balises which have already been installed for our conventional Class B SCMT signalling - we already have around 10,000km of GSM-R in Italy," Senesi says. "We believe this will be first application worldwide of radio in-fill."
At the end of the year, Ansaldo STS will complete the pilot installation of ETCS Level 2 Baseline 3.4.0 overlaid on SCMT on a 40km section of TEN-T Corridor D. Alstom won a contract earlier this year for the second line which involves installing ETCS Level 2 Baseline 3 on TEN-T Corridor A between Milan and Chiasso.
FS also needs to increase capacity on some of its busiest conventional lines in the largest cities in Italy. "We currently have 5-6 minute headways, but we want a system that allows headways of less than 3 or even 2 minutes," says Senesi. "We faced two choices: change our Class B SCMT signalling system which we only finished installing six years ago or change to Class A which means ERTMS. It was a big fight, as the European Union is against upgrading Class B systems as it is pushing for an expansion of ERTMS. So we finally decided to adopt a high-capacity version of ERTMS. We have finished the specification and plan to launch a tender in 2016 for two sections of line: Rome Termini - Casilina/Ciampino and Milan Porta Garibaldi - Milan Lambrate."
Senesi says there are two challenges with this project. How to cope with GSM-R interference together with the application of GPRS, and to work out how to introduce a virtual block version of ETCS Level 3. FS is planning a novel approach to the latter. In order to reduce headways it is necessary to reduce the length of block sections. FS intends to add virtual block sections which would only be used by ERTMS-equipped trains. This means non-equipped trains would be banned from these lines during peak hours in order to achieve the shorter headways.
"We don't believe in moving block at the moment, so we will use a fixed block concept of ETCS Level 3 using safe train tail detection," Senesi explains. "A vital computer at each end of the train will transmit the location of the end of the train and avoid the use of track detection. This will obviate major expenditure on the track. Our existing SCMT balises will be used for ERTMS calibration, and we will add balises between the track circuits. This means the train will send position reports related to the balises. This is a novelty for both for us and ERTMS as a whole. We will need Baseline 3 to achieve it, which should be available by the end of the year, and we plan to open the first high-density line in 2018."
"There are two motivations for this development. We have a new generation of electronic interlocking in Rome and Milan, which enables us to take the next step in the evolution of ERTMS. By doing this, we will anticipate the development of automatic train operation and the Shift2Rail research programme."
At the other end of the railway spectrum, FS wants to reduce the operating costs of regional lines. RFI has an initiative involving ERTMS and satellite communication which it started in September 2014 on a 50km trial site on the island of Sardinia. Ansaldo STS is the promoter and prime contractor for the project which also involves the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency (GSA) which is funding the development.
One element of the project is the replacement of ETCS balises by using a satellite link to create a virtual balise every 50m. "This would solve the start-up problems with ERTMS while reducing the capital and operating costs," Senesi says. As GSM-R has not been installed on Sardinia the public bearer will be used for communication between trains and the control centre.
"Last month, on the ERTMS over satellite (Ersat) trial site in Sardinia, we received the first ETCS Level 2 movement authority from the radio block centre (RBC) using public GSM and a Global National Satellite System (GNSS) virtual balise," Senesi told IRJ. "In February the directors of the European Railway Agency (ERA) and GSA will meet in Italy to agree the requirements and further development for the project.
"With an RBC, a radio system provided by someone else, and a satellite link, we will have a great opportunity to reduce costs," Senesi continues. "If all these things work we can guarantee the future of regional lines."
German Rail's infrastructure manager, DB Networks, and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) are also involved in the project, and RFI and DB Networks are writing the user requirements. The objective is to have the system certified by 2017.
ERTMS produces huge volumes of data from the trains, the RBC and GSM-R. "One of the challenges is to find out who is at fault when the system fails and causes a delay," Senesi explains. "This is a difficult problem to solve because there could be a bug in the software or a trackside fault, for example, and gigabytes of data are involved."
FS launched its Mistral project last year which has a large team of people using functional formal methods, automated log analysis and fuzzy logic to come up with a solution by March 2016. This tool will also provide a nominal test suite of ERTMS functionalities provided by real log files. This will be the "functional test reference" to check the compatibility with other new ETCS train generic applications.
FS is pushing the boundaries of ERTMS in several directions, and if all of its initiatives come to fruition, other railways will be able to reap the benefits as well.